Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Chip Smith, Competitive Edge Sports owner, watches drills with athletes recently at the Duluth facility. Smith and his son, Tripp, are working with China Olympic athletes to prepare them for the 2012 games in London.
Chip Smith has made a name for himself in the U.S. as one of the premier sports performances coaches.
The Suwanee resident has trained hundreds of athletes, mostly in football, at his training complex Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth.
But with all the success and all the challenges Smith has faced in his 30-year career, none compare to his next endeavor. Smith signed a five-year deal to train 14 of the Chinese Olympic teams, making him the first non-Chinese to train their athletes.
"I've worked with some Olympians in the past, but not teams," Smith said. "I've trained hall of famers, Pro Bowl players, guys that played in the World Series, girls that have played in Wimbledon, guys that have played in the Masters, I've trained athletes that have been at the top of their sport. I've trained athletes at a high, high level, but for me the Chinese deal, the credibility when you're hired by a country to work with their athletes, nobody else in the country can say that."
Smith will train four sports this year men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's table tennis, men's and women's badminton and men's and women's weightlifting at the Chinese's state-of-the-art Olympic center.
"Coach Smith going over there is a really good opportunity for the Chinese athletes to learn the way Americans train their athletes," said Robert Wang, a former high jumper on the Chinese Olympic team in the '70s. "It's a huge difference. Coach Smith has done a great job in this country training the top athletes."
Smith has made his name in the U.S. training football players where he's helped put more than 500 players in the NFL since 1990. Smith's training methods specialize in sports specific movement. He's not an expert on every sport ever created, but he can teach an athlete how to move a certain way and be more effective. For instance, he can take a volleyball player and work on their bump or set, with table tennis their forehand and backhand, and train that movement without impeding the mechanics.
"All the different sports I don't have expertise in, I understand as an exercise physiologist the movement of each of those sports," Smith said. "And if I don't understand it, I can video it and come up with a training system based on what they need. That's the beauty of my system, it trains very specific movement."
Smith was one of a handful of sports performance coaches interviewed for the position. He went to China last fall and was given different sports to train like table tennis and badminton, which China is already one of the best in the world in that sport.
"If I was able to train them and show them things they've never seen then they probably knew I was on to something. I think it was a test," Smith said. "I think that's what solidified my credibility with them, I was able to show them some things they had never seen and immediately they saw the difference in how what I was doing training those movements."
Smith made his first trip to China in late February along with his son Tripp for the first training session. Smith and members of his CES staff will spend months in China over the next three years to prepare China for the 2012 Olympics in London.
"The one thing that's going to be difficult is obviously Olympic sports are different than American team sports," Tripp Smith said. "So there are some individual type things we'll have to work through. When it comes down to it they are athletes. Football players are athletes, baseball players are athletes. It's really all one in the same. It's a different language and a different sport, but the bottom line is they are competitive athletes and that's what we do really well at, working with athletes and making them better at what they do."
Some of the biggest questions Smith gets are "Why not train U.S. Olympic athletes?" and "Does he feel like he's betraying his country?" He would love to train U.S. Olympic athletes in Colorado Springs, but right now Olympic development is based on athletes working with their own personal trainer and not just one person like Smith.
As far as betraying the U.S. by training its competitors for the Olympics, Smith maintain he bleeds red and blue like any die hard American.
"It's not about country and not about politics, it's about helping athletes," Smith said. "For the people that would be offended, it's no different than missionaries that go over there, teachers that go over to teach English."
Smith's biggest challenge will be improving the Chinese in other sports than weightlifting, gymnastics and swimming. The Chinese won gold medals in those events, so his job will be to maintain that success and improve the country's overall Olympic performance. It's quite a bit of pressure, having an entire country's success hinge on your training methods.
"They are not content being good or mediocre, they want to be great," Smith said. "When you're working with the best in the world, it's pretty phenomenal when you think about how many billions of people are in the world and you get the chance to work with best in the world at what they do. That's pretty awesome."